At the peak of December’s payroll tax cut showdown on Capitol Hill, two top Republican aides discussed with me the pros and cons of making the Keystone XL pipeline a centerpiece of the debate.
They relished the idea of forcing President Obama to take a public stand on the pipeline early in an election year, instead of after the election as he had wanted. And they were eager to force him to choose between supporters in the labor movement, some of whom are pushing for the pipeline, and others in the environmental movement who vehemently oppose it. So they decided to go for it.
At the same time they knew he’d likely have to reject the project, and for them that created a dilemma.
“It’s a question of whether we’d rather have the pipeline or the issue,” said one of the GOP aides. Black or white.
In the end they chose the issue.
On Wednesday, as expected, Obama shutdown the project, dooming it unless the Canadian company angling for the project goes through the costly process of reapplying and winning approval next year.
The irony is that the Obama administration has suggested pretty clearly that they would have backed the project several months down the line. They sought the delay for political reasons, but assuming Obama wasn’t dissuaded in the ensuing months, it was just that — a delay.
By forcing the issue, Republicans have made the eventual construction of the pipeline less likely. But they have their issue.
“There are legislative vehicles that will be moving in the weeks and months ahead — and Republican on Capitol Hill will continue to everything we can to make this decision a positive decision for our country.” said House Speaker John Boehner at a Capitol press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The political attack here is based on a number of false and exaggerated claims — including that the pipeline construction would have created 20,000 jobs (the only independent study of the project concluded that the true number would’ve been much lower) and that the oil is now destined for China instead of the U.S.
At her own Capitol briefing Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took issue with these claims.
“If the Republicans cared so much about the Keystone pipeline, they would not have narrowed the president’s options by putting it on the time frame they did,” Pelosi said. “They left him very little choice…. This oil was always destined for overseas. It’s just a question of whether it leaves Canada by way of Canada, or it leaves Canada by way of the United States. So without taking a position on the pipeline, I don’t agree to the stipulation that this is oil that’s going to China now instead of the US. It was always going overseas. I don’t know where to, but it wasn’t for domestic consumption. And that’s really an important point because the advertising is quite to the contrary.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.